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Marshall worked on the railroad for years

MARSHALL - This is the little town that thought it could. And it did.

After 11 years of struggle, the East Texas town reopened its historic train depot in mid-November. The three-story red brick structure built in 1912 was shut down 25 years ago and had become an eyesore.

Now, $1.2 million dollars and lots of sweat later, the refurbished and manned depot that serves the once struggling Texas Eagle line glistens.

The basement floor contains the ticket counter and waiting room, with television. The first floor houses the Texas & Pacific Museum and gift shop, and the second floor is being leased as office space.

Marshall is a train town. In its heyday, the T&P had more than 25 "shops" here, buildings where public and private train cars were built. In 1860, Marshall was the fourth-largest town in Texas because of the vast expansion of T&P operations.

The depot reopened Nov. 13 with great fanfare, attracting former railroad employees, local celebrities and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has repeatedly fought to keep alive the Texas Eagle, which links Chicago and San Antonio with connecting service to Los Angeles.

Marshall native Susan Howard, who appeared for nine years on the television show Dallas, reminisced about her railway upbringing at a dinner for the individuals who made reopening of the depot happen.

She recounted accompanying her mother when she would pick up her "pa" as the whistle blew at 4 p.m. each day. "There's nothing like smelling a train," she said passionately. "It smells g-o-o-d."

And she remembered when the depot closed.

"This town was the Texas & Pacific Railroad," she said. "When it wasn't there anymore, it was like a bomb had gone off."

But now the future is bright.

"No one person made this day happen," Ms. Hutchison told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, emphasizing that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes effort.

"A few years ago, four railroad lines received notices that they would be closed, because only the lines supported by the states would stay open," she told the group. "Out of those four lines, only one has stayed open, and that is the Texas Eagle."

A $5.6 million loan from Texas helped the Texas Eagle keep afloat. Earlier this year, the loan was repaid two months early. Mail and express service on boxcars pulled behind the passenger train have helped revenues.

But there is still so much more to do, she said. The Texas Eagle must prove itself self-sufficient by 2003.

"National passenger rail service means 'national,' not just the northeast corridor," she stressed.

Her goal is that service will soon be seven days a week. By spring, service will be increased to five days a week from four.

"Five is good, but seven is better," she said. "I want grandmothers in Marshall who can't drive to be able to get on the train to go to El Paso to see their grandchildren," she said.

She also wants college students to be able to get home without getting out on the highways and tourists to hit the rails, with feeder systems to get people to buses and airplanes.

"We can create that synergism," she said. "Trains are our past, but they are also our future."

The Dallas Morning News
Kathryn Straach